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MISS LURIDA VINCENT TO MRS. EUTHYMIA KIRKWOOD. ARROWHEAD VILLAGE, May 18.
MY DEAREST EUTHYMIA,--Who would have thought, when you broke your oar as the Atalanta flashed by the Algonquin, last June, that before the roses came again you would find yourself the wife of a fine scholar and grand gentleman, and the head of a household such as that of which you are the mistress? You must not forget your old Arrowhead Village friends. What am I saying?---you forget them! No, dearest, I know your heart too well for that! You are not one of those who lay aside their old friendships as they do last years bonnet when they get a new one. You have told me all about yourself and your happiness, and now you want me to tell you about myself and what is going on in our little place.
And first about myself. I have given up the idea of becoming a doctor. I have studied mathematics so much that I have grown fond of certainties, of demonstrations, and medicine deals chiefly in probabilities. The practice of the art is so mixed up with the deepest human interests that it is hard to pursue it with that even poise of the intellect which is demanded by science. I want knowledge pure and simple,--I do not fancy having it mixed. Neither do I like the thought of passing my life in going from one scene of suffering to another; I am not saintly enough for such a daily martyrdom, nor callous enough to make it an easy occupation. I fainted at the first operation I saw, and I have never wanted to see another. I don't say that I wouldn't marry a physician, if the right one asked me, but the young doctor is not forthcoming at present. Yes, I think I might make a pretty good doctor's wife. I could teach him a good deal about headaches and backaches and all sorts of nervous revolutions, as the doctor says the French women call their tantrums. I don't know but I should be willing to let him try his new medicines on me. If he were a homeopath, I know I should; for if a billionth of a grain of sugar won't begin to sweeten my tea or coffee, I don't feel afraid that a billionth of a grain of anything would poison me,--no, not if it were snake-venom; and if it were not disgusting, I would swallow a handful of his lachesis globules, to please my husband. But if I ever become a doctor's wife, my husband will not be one of that kind of practitioners, you may be sure of that, nor an "eclectic," nor a "faith-cure man." On the whole, I don't think I want to be married at all. I don't like the male animal very well (except such noble specimens as your husband). They are all tyrants,--almost all,--so far as our sex is concerned, and I often think we could get on better without them.
However, the creatures are useful in the Society. They send us papers, some of them well worth reading. You have told me so often that you would like to know how the Society is getting on, and to read some of the papers sent to it if they happened to be interesting, that I have laid aside one or two manuscripts expressly for your perusal. You will get them by and by.
I am delighted to know that you keep Paolo with you. Arrowhead Village misses him dreadfully, I can tell you. That is the reason people become so attached to these servants with Southern sunlight in their natures? I suppose life is not long enough to cool their blood down to our Northern standard. Then they are so child-like, whereas the native of these latitudes is never young after he is ten or twelve years old. Mother says,--you know mother's old-fashioned notions, and how shrewd and sensible she is in spite of them,--mother says that when she was a girl families used to import young men and young women from the country towns, who called themselves "helps," not servants,--no, that was Scriptural; "but they did n't know everything down in Judee," and it is not good American language. She says that these people would live in the same household until they were married, and the women often remain in the same service until they died or were old and worn out, and then, what with the money they had saved and the care and assistance they got from their former employers, would pass a decent and comfortable old age, and be buried in the family lot. Mother has made up her mind to the change, but grandmother is bitter about it. She says there never was a country yet where the population was made up of "ladies" and "gentlemen," and she does n't believe there can be; nor that putting a spread eagle on a copper makes a gold dollar of it. She is a pessimist after her own fashion. She thinks all sentiment is dying out of our people. No loyalty for the sovereign, the king-post of the political edifice, she says; no deep attachment between employer and employed; no reverence of the humbler members of a household for its heads; and to make sure of continued corruption and misery, what she calls "universal suffrage" emptying all the sewers into the great aqueduct we all must drink from. "Universal suffrage!" I suppose we women don't belong to the universe! Wait until we get a chance at the ballot-box, I tell grandma, and see if we don't wash out the sewers before they reach the aqueduct! But my pen has run away with men I was thinking of Paolo, and what a pleasant thing it is to have one of those child-like, warm-hearted, attachable, cheerful, contented, humble, faithful, companionable, but never presuming grownup children of the South waiting on one, as if everything he could do for one was a pleasure, and carrying a look of content in his face which makes every one who meets him happier for a glimpse of his features.
It does seem a shame that the charming relation of master and servant, intelligent authority and cheerful obedience, mutual interest in each other's welfare, thankful recognition of all the advantages which belong to domestic service in the better class of families, should be almost wholly confined to aliens and their immediate descendants. Why should Hannah think herself so much better than Bridget? When they meet at the polls together, as they will before long, they will begin to feel more of an equality than is recognized at present. The native female turns her nose up at the idea of "living out;" does she think herself so much superior to the women of other nationalities? Our women will have to come to it,--so grandmother says,--in another generation or two, and in a hundred years, according to her prophecy, there will be a new set of old "Miss Pollys" and "Miss Betseys" who have lived half a century in the same families, respectful and respected, cherished, cared for in time of need (citizens as well as servants, holding a ballot as well as a broom, I tell her), and bringing back to us the lowly, underfoot virtues of contentment and humility, which we do so need to carpet the barren and hungry thoroughfare of our unstratified existence.
There, I have got a-going, and am forgetting all the news I have to tell you. There is an engagement you will want to know all about. It came to pass through our famous boat-race, which you and I remember, and shall never forget as long as we live. It seems that the young fellow who pulled the bow oar of that men's college boat which we had the pleasure of beating got some glimpses of Georgina, our handsome stroke oar. I believe he took it into his head that it was she who threw the bouquet that won the race for us. He was, as you know, greatly mistaken, and ought to have made love to me, only he did n't. Well, it seems he came posting down to the Institute just before the vacation was over, and there got a sight of Georgina. I wonder whether she told him she didn't fling the bouquet! Anyhow, the acquaintance began in that way, and now it seems that this young fellow, good-looking and a bright scholar, but with a good many months more to pass in college, is her captive. It was too bad. Just think of my bouquet's going to another girl's credit! No matter, the old Atalanta story was paid off, at any rate.
You want to know all about dear Dr. Butts. They say he has just been offered a Professorship in one of the great medical colleges. I asked him about it, and he did not say that he had or had not. "But," said be, "suppose that I had been offered such a place; do you think I ought to accept it and leave Arrowhead Village? Let us talk it over," said he, "just as if I had had such an offer." I told him he ought to stay. There are plenty of men that can get into a Professor's chair, I said, and talk like Solomons to a class of wondering pupils: but once get a really good doctor in a place, a man who knows all about everybody, whether they have this or that tendency, whether when they are sick they have a way of dying or a way of getting well, what medicines agree with them and what drugs they cannot take, whether they are of the sort that think nothing is the matter with them until they are dead as smoked herring, or of the sort that send for the minister if they get a stomach-ache from eating too many cucumbers,--who knows all about all the people within half a dozen miles (all the sensible ones, that is, who employ a regular practitioner),--such a man as that, I say, is not to be replaced like a missing piece out of a Springfield musket or a Waltham watch. Don't go! said I. Stay here and save our precious lives, if you can, or at least put us through in the proper way, so that we needn't be ashamed of ourselves for dying, if we must die. Well, Dr. Butts is not going to leave us. I hope you will have no unwelcome occasion for his services,--you are never ill, you know,--but, anyhow, he is going to be here, and no matter what happens he will be on hand.
The village news is not of a very exciting character. Item 1. A new house is put up over the ashes of the one in which your husband lived while he was here. It was planned by one of the autochthonous inhabitants with the most ingenious combination of inconveniences that the natural man could educe from his original perversity of intellect. To get at any one room you must pass through every other. It is blind, or nearly so, on the only side which has a good prospect, and commands a fine view of the barn and pigsty through numerous windows. Item 2. We have a small fire-engine near the new house which can be worked by a man or two, and would be equal to the emergency of putting out a bunch of fire-crackers. Item 3. We have a new ladder, in a bog, close to the new fire-engine, so if the new house catches fire, like its predecessor, and there should happen to, be a sick man on an upper floor, he can be got out without running the risk of going up and down a burning staircase. What a blessed thing it was that there was no fire-engine near by and no ladder at hand on the day of the great rescue! If there had been, what a change in your programme of life! You remember that "cup of tea spilt on Mrs. Masham's apron," which we used to read of in one of Everett's Orations, and all its wide-reaching consequences in the affairs of Europe. I hunted up that cup of tea as diligently as ever a Boston matron sought for the last leaves in her old caddy after the tea-chests had been flung overboard at Griffin's wharf,--but no matter about that, now. That is the way things come about in this world. I must write a lecture on lucky mishaps, or, more elegantly, fortunate calamities. It will be just the converse of that odd essay of Swift's we read together, the awkward and stupid things done with the best intentions. Perhaps I shall deliver the lecture in your city: you will come and hear it, and bring him, won't you, dearest? Always, your loving
MISS LURIDA VINCENT TO MRS. EUTHYMIA KIRKWOOD.
It seems forever since you left us, dearest Euthymia! And are you, and is your husband, and Paolo,--good Paolo,--are you all as well and happy as you have been and as you ought to be? I suppose our small village seems a very quiet sort of place to pass the winter in, now that you have become accustomed to the noise and gayety of a great city. For all that, it is a pretty busy place this winter, I can tell you. We have sleighing parties,--I never go to them, myself, because I can't keep warm, and my mind freezes up when my blood cools down below 95 or 96 deg. Fahrenheit. I had a great deal rather sit by a good fire and read about Arctic discoveries. But I like very well to hear the bells' jingling and to see the young people trying to have a good time as hard as they do at a picnic. It may be that they do, but to me a picnic is purgatory and a sleigh-ride that other place, where, as my favorite Milton says, "frost performs the effect of fire." I believe I have quoted him correctly; I ought to, for I could repeat half his poems from memory once, if I cannot now.
You must have plenty of excitement in your city life. I suppose you recognized yourself in one of the society columns of the "Household Inquisitor:" "Mrs. E. K., very beautiful, in an elegant," etc., etc, "with pearls," etc., etc.,--as if you were not the ornament of all that you wear, no matter what it is!
I am so glad that you have married a scholar! Why should not Maurice--you both tell me to call him so--take the diplomatic office which has been offered him? It seems to me that he would find himself in exactly the right place. He can talk in two or three languages, has good manners, and a wife who--well, what shall I say of Mrs. Kirkwood but that "she would be good company for a queen," as our old friend the quondam landlady of the Anchor Tavern used to say? I should so like to see you presented at Court! It seems to me that I should be willing to hold your train for the sake of seeing you in your court feathers and things.
As for myself, I have been thinking of late that I would become either a professional lecturer or head mistress of a great school or college for girls. I have tried the first business a little. Last month I delivered a lecture on Quaternions. I got three for my audience; two came over from the Institute, and one from that men's college which they try to make out to be a university, and where no female is admitted unless she belongs among the quadrupeds. I enjoyed lecturing, but the subject is a difficult one, and I don't think any one of them had any very clear notion of what I was talking about, except Rhodora,--and I know she did n't. To tell the truth, I was lecturing to instruct myself. I mean to try something easier next time. I have thought of the Basque language and literature. What do you say to that?
The Society goes on famously. We have had a paper presented and read lately which has greatly amused some of us and provoked a few of the weaker sort. The writer is that crabbed old Professor of Belles-Lettres at that men's college over there. He is dreadfully hard on the poor "poets," as they call themselves. It seems that a great many young persons, and more especially a great many young girls, of whom the Institute has furnished a considerable proportion, have taken to sending him their rhymed productions to be criticised,--expecting to be praised, no doubt, every one of them. I must give you one of the sauciest extracts from his paper in his own words:
"It takes half my time to read the 'poems' sent me by young people of both sexes. They would be more shy of doing it if they knew that I recognize a tendency to rhyming as a common form of mental weakness, and the publication of a thin volume of verse as prima facie evidence of ambitious mediocrity, if not inferiority. Of course there are exceptions to this rule of judgment, but I maintain that the presumption is always against the rhymester as compared with the less pretentious persons about him or her, busy with some useful calling,--too busy to be tagging rhymed commonplaces together. Just now there seems to be an epidemic of rhyming as bad as the dancing mania, or the sweating sickness. After reading a certain amount of manuscript verse one is disposed to anathematize the inventor of homophonous syllabification. [This phrase made a great laugh when it was read.] This, that is rhyming, must have been found out very early,
"'Where are you, Adam?'
"'Here am I, Madam;'
"but it can never have been habitually practised until after the Fall. The intrusion of tintinnabulating terminations into the conversational intercourse of men and angels would have spoiled Paradise itself. Milton would not have them even in Paradise Lost, you remember. For my own part, I wish certain rhymes could be declared contraband of written or printed language. Nothing should be allowed to be hurled at the world or whirled with it, or furled upon it or curled over it; all eyes should be kept away from the skies, in spite of os homini sublime dedit; youth should be coupled with all the virtues except truth; earth should never be reminded of her birth; death should never be allowed to stop a mortal's breath, nor the bell to sound his knell, nor flowers from blossoming bowers to wave over his grave or show their bloom upon his tomb. We have rhyming dictionaries,--let us have one from which all rhymes are rigorously excluded. The sight of a poor creature grubbing for rhymes to fill up his sonnet, or to cram one of those voracious, rhyme-swallowing rigmaroles which some of our drudging poetical operatives have been exhausting themselves of late to satiate with jingles, makes my head ache and my stomach rebel. Work, work of some kind, is the business of men and women, not the making of jingles! No,--no,--no! I want to see the young people in our schools and academies and colleges, and the graduates of these institutions, lifted up out of the little Dismal Swamp of self-contemplating and self-indulging and self-commiserating emotionalism which is surfeiting the land with those literary sandwiches,--thin slices of tinkling sentimentality between two covers looking like hard-baked gilt gingerbread. But what faces these young folks make up at my good advice! They get tipsy on their rhymes. Nothing intoxicates one like his--or her--own verses, and they hold on to their metre-ballad-mongering as the fellows that inhale nitrous oxide hold on to the gas-bag."
We laughed over this essay of the old Professor; though it hit us pretty hard. The best part of the joke is that the old man himself published a thin volume of poems when he was young, which there is good reason to think he is not very proud of, as they say he buys up all the copies he can find in the shops. No matter what they say, I can't help agreeing with him about this great flood of "poetry," as it calls itself, and looking at the rhyming mania much as he does.
How I do love real poetry! That is the reason hate rhymes which have not a particle of it in them. The foolish scribblers that deal in them are like bad workmen in a carpenter's shop. They not only turn out bad jobs of work, but they spoil the tools for better workmen. There is hardly a pair of rhymes in the English language that is not so dulled and hacked and gapped by these 'prentice hands that a master of the craft hates to touch them, and yet he cannot very well do without them. I have not been besieged as the old Professor has been with such multitudes of would-be-poetical aspirants that he could not even read their manuscripts, but I have had a good many letters containing verses, and I have warned the writers of the delusion under which they were laboring.
You may like to know that I have just been translating some extracts from the Greek Anthology. I send you a few specimens of my work, with a Dedication to the Shade of Sappho. I hope you will find something of the Greek rhythm in my versions, and that I have caught a spark of inspiration from the impassioned Lesbian. I have found great delight in this work, at any rate, and am never so happy as when I read from my manuscript or repeat from memory the lines into which I have transferred the thought of the men and women of two thousand years ago, or given rhythmical expression to my own rapturous feelings with regard to them. I must read you my Dedication to the Shade of Sappho. I cannot help thinking that you will like it better than either of my last two, The Song of the Roses, or The Wail of the Weeds.
How I do miss you, dearest! I want you: I want you to listen to what I have written; I want you to hear all about my plans for the future; I want to look at you, and think how grand it must be to feel one's self to be such a noble and beautiful-creature; I want to wander in the woods with you, to float on the lake, to share your life and talk over every day's doings with you. Alas! I feel that we have parted as two friends part at a port of embarkation: they embrace, they kiss each other's cheeks, they cover their faces and weep, they try to speak good-by to each other, they watch from the pier and from the deck; the two forms grow less and less, fainter and fainter in the distance, two white handkerchiefs flutter once and again, and yet once more, and the last visible link of the chain which binds them has parted. Dear, dear, dearest Euthymia, my eyes are running over with tears when I think that we may never, never meet again.
Don't you want some more items of village news? We are threatened with an influx of stylish people: "Buttons" to answer the door-bell, in place of the chamber-maid; "butler," in place of the "hired man;" footman in top-boots and breeches, cockade on hat, arms folded a la Napoleon; tandems, "drags," dogcarts, and go-carts of all sorts. It is rather amusing to look at their ambitious displays, but it takes away the good old country flavor of the place.
I don't believe you mean to try to astonish us when you come back to spend your summers here. I suppose you must have a large house, and I am sure you will have a beautiful one. I suppose you will have some fine horses, and who would n't be glad to? But I do not believe you will try to make your old Arrowhead Village friends stare their eyes out of their heads with a display meant to outshine everybody else that comes here. You can have a yacht on the lake, if you like, but I hope you will pull a pair of oars in our old boat once in a while, with me to steer you. I know you will be just the same dear-Euthymia you always were and always must be. How happy you must make such a man as Maurice Kirkwood! And how happy you ought to be with him!--a man who knows what is in books, and who has seen for himself, what is in men. If he has not seen so much of women, where could he study all that is best in womanhood as he can in his own wife? Only one thing that dear Euthymia lacks. She is not quite pronounced enough in her views as to the rights and the wrongs of the sex. When I visit you, as you say I shall, I mean to indoctrinate Maurice with sound views on that subject. I have written an essay for the Society, which I hope will go a good way towards answering all the objections to female suffrage. I mean to read it to your husband, if you will let me, as I know you will, and perhaps you would like to hear it,--only you know my thoughts on the subject pretty well already.
With all sorts of kind messages to your dear husband, and love to your precious self, I am ever your
DR. BUTTS TO MRS. EUTHYMIA KIRKWOOD.
MY DEAR EUTHYMIA,--My pen refuses to call you by any other name. Sweet-souled you are, and your Latinized Greek name is--the one which truly designates you. I cannot tell you how we have followed you, with what interest and delight through your travels, as you have told their story in your letters to your mother. She has let us have the privilege of reading them, and we have been with you in steamer, yacht, felucca, gondola, Nile-boat; in all sorts of places, from crowded capitals to "deserts where no men abide,"--everywhere keeping company with you in your natural and pleasant descriptions of your experiences. And now that you have returned to your home in the great city I must write you a few lines of welcome, if nothing more.
You will find Arrowhead Village a good deal changed since you left it. We are discovered by some of those over-rich people who make the little place upon which they swarm a kind of rural city. When this happens the consequences are striking,--some of them desirable and some far otherwise. The effect of well-built, well-furnished, well-kept houses and of handsome grounds always maintained in good order about them shows itself in a large circuit around the fashionable centre. Houses get on a new coat of paint, fences are kept in better order, little plots of flowers show themselves where only ragged weeds had rioted, the inhabitants present themselves in more comely attire and drive in handsomer vehicles with more carefully groomed horses. On the other hand, there is a natural jealousy on the part of the natives of the region suddenly become fashionable. They have seen the land they sold at farm prices by the acre coming to be valued by the foot, like the corner lots in a city. Their simple and humble modes of life look almost poverty-stricken in the glare of wealth and luxury which so outshines their plain way of living. It is true that many of them have found them selves richer than in former days, when the neighborhood lived on its own resources. They know how to avail themselves of their altered position, and soon learn to charge city prices for country products; but nothing can make people feel rich who see themselves surrounded by men whose yearly income is many times their own whole capital. I think it would be better if our rich men scattered themselves more than they do,--buying large country estates, building houses and stables which will make it easy to entertain their friends, and depending for society on chosen guests rather than on the mob of millionaires who come together for social rivalry. But I do not fret myself about it. Society will stratify itself according to the laws of social gravitation. It will take a generation or two more, perhaps, to arrange the strata by precipitation and settlement, but we can always depend on one principle to govern the arrangement of the layers. People interested in the same things will naturally come together. The youthful heirs of fortunes who keep splendid yachts have little to talk about with the oarsman who pulls about on the lake or the river. What does young Dives, who drives his four-in-hand and keeps a stable full of horses, care about Lazarus, who feels rich in the possession of a horse-railroad ticket? You know how we live at our house, plainly, but with a certain degree of cultivated propriety. We make no pretensions to what is called "style." We are still in that social stratum where the article called "a napkin-ring" is recognized as admissible at the dinner-table. That fact sufficiently defines our modest pretensions. The napkin-ring is the boundary mark between certain classes. But one evening Mrs. Butts and I went out to a party given by the lady of a worthy family, where the napkin itself was a newly introduced luxury. The conversation of the hostess and her guests turned upon details of the kitchen and the laundry; upon the best mode of raising bread, whether with "emptins" (emptyings, yeast) or baking powder; about "bluing" and starching and crimping, and similar matters. Poor Mrs. Butts! She knew nothing more about such things than her hostess did about Shakespeare and the musical glasses. What was the use of trying to enforce social intercourse under such conditions? Incompatibility of temper has been considered ground for a divorce; incompatibility of interests is a sufficient warrant for social separation. The multimillionaires have so much that is common among themselves, and so little that they share with us of moderate means, that they will naturally form a specialized class, and in virtue of their palaces, their picture-galleries, their equipages, their yachts, their large hospitality, constitute a kind of exclusive aristocracy. Religion, which ought to be the great leveller, cannot reduce these elements to the same grade. You may read in the parable, "Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?" The modern version would be, "How came you at Mrs. Billion's ball not having a dress on your back which came from Paris?"
The little church has got a new stained window, a saint who reminds me of Hamlet's uncle,--a thing "of shreds and patches," but rather pretty to look at, with an inscription under it which is supposed to be the name of the person in whose honor the window was placed in the church. Smith was a worthy man and a faithful churchwarden, and I hope posterity will be able to spell out his name on his monumental window; but that old English lettering would puzzle Mephistopheles himself, if he found himself before this memorial tribute, on the inside,--you know he goes to church sometimes, if you remember your Faust.
The rector has come out, in a quiet way, as an evolutionist. He has always been rather "broad" in his views, but cautious in their expression. You can tell the three branches of the mother-island church by the way they carry their heads. The low-church clergy look down, as if they felt themselves to be worms of the dust; the high-church priest drops his head on one side, after the pattern of the mediaeval saints; the broad-church preacher looks forward and round about him, as if he felt himself the heir of creation. Our rector carries his head in the broad-church aspect, which I suppose is the least open to the charge of affectation,--in fact, is the natural and manly way of carrying it.
The Society has justified its name of Pansophian of late as never before. Lurida has stirred up our little community and its neighbors, so that we get essays on all sorts of subjects, poems and stories in large numbers. I know all about it, for she often consults me as to the merits of a particular contribution.
What is to be the fate of Lurida? I often think, with no little interest and some degree of anxiety, about her future. Her body is so frail and her mind so excessively and constantly active that I am afraid one or the other will give way. I do not suppose she thinks seriously of ever being married. She grows more and more zealous in behalf of her own sex, and sterner in her judgment of the other. She declares that she never would marry any man who was not an advocate of female suffrage, and as these gentlemen are not very common hereabouts the chance is against her capturing any one of the hostile sex.
What do you think? I happened, just as I was writing the last sentence, to look out of my window, and whom should I see but Lurida, with a young man in tow, listening very eagerly to her conversation, according to all appearance! I think he must be a friend of the rector, as I have seen a young man like this one in his company. Who knows?
Affectionately yours, etc.
DR. BUTTS TO MRS. BUTTS.
MY BELOVED WIFE,--This letter will tell you more news than you would have thought could have been got together in this little village during the short time you have been staying away from it.
Lurida Vincent is engaged! He is a clergyman with a mathematical turn. The story is that he put a difficult problem into one of the mathematical journals, and that Lurida presented such a neat solution that the young man fell in love with her on the strength of it. I don't think the story is literally true, nor do I believe that other report that he offered himself to her in the form of an equation chalked on the blackboard; but that it was an intellectual rather than a sentimental courtship I do not doubt. Lurida has given up the idea of becoming a professional lecturer,--so she tells me,--thinking that her future husband's parish will find her work enough to do. A certain amount of daily domestic drudgery and unexciting intercourse with simple-minded people will be the best thing in the world for that brain of hers, always simmering with some new project in its least fervid condition.
All our summer visitors have arrived. Euthymia Mrs. Maurice Kirkwood and her husband and little Maurice are here in their beautiful house looking out on the lake. They gave a grand party the other evening. You ought to have been there, but I suppose you could not very well have left your sister in the middle of your visit: All the grand folks were there, of course. Lurida and her young man--Gabriel is what she calls him--were naturally the objects of special attention. Paolo acted as major-domo, and looked as if he ought to be a major-general. Nothing could be pleasanter than the way in which Mr. and Mrs. Kirkwood received their plain country neighbors; that is, just as they did the others of more pretensions, as if they were really glad to see them, as I am sure they were. The old landlord and his wife had two arm-chairs to themselves, and I saw Miranda with the servants of the household looking in at the dancers and out at the little groups in the garden, and evidently enjoying it as much as her old employers. It was a most charming and successful party. We had two sensations in the course of the evening. One was pleasant and somewhat exciting, the other was thrilling and of strange and startling interest.
You remember how emaciated poor Maurice Kirkwood was left after his fever, in that first season when he was among us. He was out in a boat one day, when a ring slipped off his thin finger and sunk in a place where the water was rather shallow. "Jake"--you know Jake,--everybody knows Jake--was rowing him. He promised to come to the spot and fish up the ring if he could possibly find it. He was seen poking about with fish-hooks at the end of a pole, but nothing was ever heard from him about the ring. It was an antique intaglio stone in an Etruscan setting,--a wild goose flying over the Campagna. Mr. Kirkwood valued it highly, and regretted its loss very much.
While we were in the garden, who should appear at the gate but Jake, with a great basket, inquiring for Mr. Kirkwood. "Come," said Maurice to me, "let us see what our old friend the fisherman has brought us. What have you got there, Jake?"
"What I 've got? Wall, I 'll tell y' what I've got: I 've got the biggest pickerel that's been ketched in this pond for these ten year. An' I 've got somethin' else besides the pickerel. When I come to cut him open, what do you think I faound in his insides but this here ring o' yourn,"--and he showed the one Maurice had lost so long before. There it was, as good as new, after having tried Jonah's style of housekeeping for all that time. There are those who discredit Jake's story about finding the ring in the fish; anyhow, there was the ring and there was the pickerel. I need not say that Jake went off well paid for his pickerel and the precious contents of its stomach. Now comes the chief event of the evening. I went early by special invitation. Maurice took me into his library, and we sat down together.
"I have something of great importance," he said, "to say to you. I learned within a few days that my cousin Laura is staying with a friend in the next town to this. You know, doctor, that we have never met since the last, almost fatal, experience of my early years. I have determined to defy the strength of that deadly chain of associations connected with her presence, and I have begged her to come this evening with the friends with whom she is staying. Several letters passed between us, for it was hard to persuade her that there was no longer any risk in my meeting her. Her imagination was almost as deeply impressed as mine had been at those alarming interviews, and I had to explain to her fully that I had become quite indifferent to the disturbing impressions of former years. So, as the result of our correspondence, Laura is coming this evening, and I wish you to be present at our meeting. There is another reason why I wish you to be here. My little boy is not far from the--age at which I received my terrifying, almost disorganizing shock. I mean to have little Maurice brought into the presence of Laura, who is said to be still a very handsome woman, and see if he betrays any hint of that peculiar sensitiveness which showed itself in my threatening seizure. It seemed to me not impossible that he might inherit some tendency of that nature, and I wanted you to be at hand if any sign of danger should declare itself. For myself I have no fear. Some radical change has taken place in my nervous system. I have been born again, as it were, in my susceptibilities, and am in certain respects a new man. But I must know how it is with my little Maurice."
Imagine with what interest I looked forward to this experiment; for experiment it was, and not without its sources of anxiety, as it seemed to me. The evening wore along; friends and neighbors came in, but no Laura as yet. At last I heard the sound of wheels, and a carriage stopped at the door. Two ladies and a gentleman got out, and soon entered the drawing room.
"My cousin Laura!" whispered Maurice to me, and went forward to meet her. A very handsome woman, who might well have been in the thirties,--one of those women so thoroughly constituted that they cannot help being handsome at every period of life. I watched them both as they approached each other. Both looked pale at first, but Maurice soon recovered his usual color, and Laura's natural, rich bloom came back by degrees. Their emotion at meeting was not to be wondered at, but there was no trace in it of the paralyzing influence on the great centres of life which had once acted upon its fated victim like the fabled head which turned the looker-on into a stone.
"Is the boy still awake?" said Maurice to Paolo, who, as they used to say of Pushee at the old Anchor Tavern, was everywhere at once on that gay and busy evening.
"What! Mahser Maurice asleep an' all this racket going on? I hear him crowing like young cockerel when he fus' smell daylight."
"Tell the nurse to bring him down quietly to the little room that leads out of the library."
The child was brought down in his night-clothes, wide awake, wondering apparently at the noise he heard, which he seemed to think was for his special amusement.
"See if he will go to that lady," said his father. Both of us held our breath as Laura stretched her arms towards little Maurice.
The child looked for an instant searchingly, but fearlessly, at her glowing cheeks, her bright eyes, her welcoming smile, and met her embrace as she clasped him to her bosom as if he had known her all his days.
The mortal antipathy had died out of the soul and the blood of Maurice Kirkwood at that supreme moment when he found himself snatched from the grasp of death and cradled in the arms of Euthymia.
* * * * * * *
In closing the New Portfolio I remember that it began with a prefix which the reader may by this time have forgotten, namely, the First Opening. It was perhaps presumptuous to thus imply the probability of a second opening.
I am reminded from time to time by the correspondents who ask a certain small favor of me that, as I can only expect to be with my surviving contemporaries a very little while longer, they would be much obliged if I would hurry up my answer before it is too late. They are right, these delicious unknown friends of mine, in reminding me of a fact which I cannot gainsay and might suffer to pass from my recollection. I thank them for recalling my attention to a truth which I shall be wiser, if not more hilarious, for remembering.
No, I had no right to say the First Opening. How do I know that I shall have a chance to open it again? How do I know that anybody will want it to be opened a second time? How do I know that I shall feel like opening it? It is safest neither to promise to open the New Portfolio once more, nor yet to pledge myself to keep it closed hereafter. There are many papers potentially existent in it, some of which might interest a reader here and there. The Records of the Pansophian Society contain a considerable number of essays, poems, stories, and hints capable of being expanded into presentable dimensions. In the mean time I will say with Prospero, addressing my old readers, and my new ones, if such I have,
"If you be pleased, retire into my cell And there repose: a turn or two I'll walk, To still my beating mind."
When it has got quiet I may take up the New Portfolio again, and consider whether it is worth while to open it consider whether it is worth while to open it.
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